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Abstract

Recognizing the importance of English Language education for the national development of Qatar, this study addresses the critical need to understand the learning processes of English language teachers and how they make sense out of professional development (PD) opportunities. The study is premised on the argument that to improve effectiveness of educational reforms, to understand how PD influences classroom teaching and in the end student learning, the experiences of teachers as the central actors in this chain of events need first to be documented. Only through a fuller grasp of how teachers experience PD and how they connect it to their teaching will the goals of systemic educational improvement be realized. The study contributes, therefore, to understanding the role that PD opportunities play in creating a learning environment for students and helping a nation achieve its educational goals. Background Applying phenomenongraphic research methods (Marton, 1983, 1986) developed in two previous national studies in Chile and Turkey, the study funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (NPRP 7-1330-2-483) investigated the connections that occur in the thinking of teachers as they ‘travel’ from PD opportunities to classroom teaching (cf., Freeman, 2016). The study's logic model challenges a linear, transmission model of teacher learning (cf., Desimone, 2009), which would posit that the best way to evaluate PD opportunities is to measure congruence between a PD provider's learning objectives, what teachers report they learned, and observed evidence of teachers' implementing the objectives. Instead, the study's logic model assumes the importance of a larger question, which is the impact at a systemic-level of PD. The starting point for understanding the impact of PD at a systemic-level should be teachers' evolving perceptions of the nature of the opportunities provided, what they learned, and how they use that learning as part of their teaching. Method Specifically the study investigated what professional development opportunities were publicly available, how teachers participated in these opportunities, and how they reported using what they learned. In the first stage, data gathered from professional development providers in Qatar was used to create an inventory of 150 events offered during the three-year period from 2012 to 2015. The inventory provided insight into the Qatar PD system as seen from the providers' perspective. The second stage investigated teachers' perspectives on the Qatar PD system during the same period as the provider inventory and its influence on the teachers' thinking. Teachers' perceptions were gathered through an electronic survey sent to all government school English language teachers, with a 72% response rate (n = 676). The survey asked closed-ended questions about respondent demographics, whether the respondent had participated in any PD during the 2012-2015 period, and if so, how many events. For each event a respondent indicated, they were asked to describe the event, tell what they learned, and how they used what they learned. The responses to these open-ended questions were analyzed using grounded coding schemes developed for each question. This paper focuses on what can be understood using this survey data about how teachers made meaning from their PD opportunities. Subsequent to the survey, a sub-sample of 54 survey respondents completed five days of teaching logs describing what they taught each day and what they saw as connections to the professional development they described in the survey. Lastly, 10 teachers were observed in their classrooms to examine relations with the survey and teaching log data. Findings The inventory provided significant insights into the system for providing PD in the country, and the possibly implicit messages created when different types of providers routinely offer different types of PD. For example categorization of offerings by the education ministry suggest that it prioritizes PD related to general policies and regulation whereas extra-governmental providers offered more sessions directly targeting English language teaching and learning. From the providers' perspective, the system also seems to emphasize teaching methodologies, with approximately half of the 150 events offered pertaining to ELT skills, general teaching methodologies, and/or teaching literacy. Findings from the survey indicate the salience of PD in the professional lives of Qatar English teachers. In the survey, 89% of teachers reported participating in professional development during the three-year period, providing perceptions about 2038 total PD events. Of those who participated, 97% reported that they were able to use what they learned in their teaching. This finding runs counter to conventional narratives in policy and research that portray teachers as being resistant to PD or only attending because they have to. It also raises the question of how teachers understand usefulness and application. The open-ended questions that asked teachers to describe an event, tell what they learned from it, and how they used that understanding in their teaching, were analyzed using measures of both frequency and likelihood of co-occurrence. These findings suggest the existence across both teachers and events of salient topics (e.g., curriculum standards), which may function as a type of “coin of the realm,” in other words, topics the teachers felt they needed to recognize. A picture also emerges of a PD system that prompts Qatari English teachers to think about their general role as teachers separately from their role as language teachers. With regard to the latter role, teachers reported focusing on the particulars of teaching more than on how that teaching impacts students and their learning. The study breaks new ground in understanding professional development from the perspectives of policy and practice. Rather than ‘learning and then applying’ PD content as conventional models of professional development suggest, the study documents how teachers take up what they find meaningful in PD events and transform that uptake into knowledge and practices that they see as viable in their teaching contexts. References Desimone, L. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers» professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38 (3), 181-199. Freeman, D. (2016). Educating second language teachers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Marton, F. (1983). Beyond individual differences. Educational Psychology, 3(3–4), 289–303. Marton, F. (1986). Phenomenography—a research approach to investigating different understandings of reality. Journal of Thought, 28–49.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2018.SSAHPP107
2018-03-15
2019-12-14
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